Getting an early jump on putting this disasterfuck of a season to bed, Alex Anthopoulos joined Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler on the Sportsnet broadcast for a talk during what turned out to be a lengthy the top of the second inning of Friday night’s game, commenting on the year that was and what we can expect as we move into the off-season. Continuing a recent trend, Anthopoulos was a bit more candid than we’ve become accustomed to during his three seasons at the Jays’ helm, especially with regard to how he’s looking to reshape the roster during the winter.
“I’m not as concerned with guys who have options,” he said, explaining an evolving philosophy– or, at the very least, a what it seems he hopes will be a newfound ability to avoid relying on the organization’s young players. “They want to be up here– but we’re going to do what’s best for the organization. We want to see some of the young guys play, but there isn’t anything wrong with having them wait if we can have guys that can help the team right now and have that depth, because as we’ve seen, over the coming year guys won’t perform, guys are going get hurt, and we need that depth– it’s going to be important. So, if we can fill spots and have some of the young guys waiting in the wings to force our hand, that’s definitely going to be something that we’re going to adjust to.”
Part of this, especially on the pitching side, though I certainly think it pertains to hitters as well, absolutely must have to do with the fact that the Jays are now out of Las Vegas, their Triple-A club having landed in Buffalo. Because the problem with Vegas was so much to do with geography, not the people in charge of the 51s, I can understand why Anthopoulos has so far been reluctant to take a right proper shit on his former affiliate, but I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that Triple-A has become a more viable destination for the club’s top prospects, now that they’ll be playing in an environment that won’t so easily tempt young players into changing their approach.
“I would say a chance,” he says of Anthony Gose’s prospects to start in left field next year, for example. “Ideally, we’d have someone more established, if we can. And it doesn’t mean it’s going to work out that way, and again, it’s going to be weighing off who else is going out there. But Anthony’s got options left. He’s playing better since he’s been back. Defensively he’s been outstanding, he’s made strides, his swing is better, and so on, but we’re not going to hand anybody a job. So, it really depends on what happens in the off-season, but we won’t rule out, if there’s someone established, to go get someone.”
The story is much the same on Adeiny Hechavarria.
“Is there a scenario where he could have a starting position for us? Sure, but in a perfect world, I’d love to have those guys in the minor leagues, waiting in the wings, and have some established guys up here,” he explains. “It will just make the organization stronger.”
It’s an entirely reasonable position to take– and isn’t the first suggestion I’ve heard that the club is more serious than you might be inclined to believe about bringing in a veteran outfielder, though their reported overtures towards Carlos Beltran last winter probably should have given us some indication– yet, as you’d expect, Anthopoulos insists that pitching will be his priority.
“I was just saying, with Brandon [Morrow on Thursday] night, the game he threw– man, we look like a good team when we pitch,” he says. “That’s certainly what it comes down to.”
The problem with all this dreaming, of course, is actually making it happen, which inevitably will require the team to throw some dollars around– and not necessarily only on major upgrades, but on acquiring the kinds of established, mid-tier regulars that would consign guys like Gose and Hechavarria to the minors, instantly making a trade involving either of those two eminently more palatable. I don’t know if it’s because he’s been backed more into a corner than ever before, but Anthopoulos is unambiguous that he understands this, and that he feels he has the resources to do it.
“I know we’re going to try,” he says after being asked if he will, or can, get free agents to come here. “I’ve never been that adamant about it before– I think last off-season, even, there was a lot of talk about how payroll was going to skyrocket. It never came from our mouths, but I understand, the rumour mill starts, and it got out of control. But I’ve said this before: I expect our payroll to go up, and I expect us to be active in trying to pursue free agents to come here. You can never guarantee anything with free agency, but definitely a different approach to free agency this off-season coming up than it has in the past– more open-minded, and I think we can set our sights a little bit higher than we have in the past.”
The last line maybe gives us a little bit of pause– because it’s not like “a little bit higher” necessarily means the fucking stratosphere, seeing as the most expensive free agents to have signed here since Frank Thomas are David Eckstein and Darren Oliver– but the GM at least sounds sincere in the fact that he’s going to try. And he understands the difficulty of the task, too.
“I think the number one challenge, because Toronto was never an issue with attracting free agents when they had a winning product on the field– World Series years– I was just talking to someone in a suite with guys like Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, Paul Molitor and so on– so if you have a winning team and a contending team, that takes care of itself, no matter where you are,” he explains. “Right now we’re not there– the results certainly speak for themselves. We’ve also been able to attract free agents when we’ve spent more– we did it with Burnett, we did it with Ryan– and it’s not to say they didn’t want to be here, but we certainly gave the most years, and the most dollars. So, if we’re not a team that can certainly sell the win-loss of what we did in 2012– and we certainly can’t, you talk about the potential and so on– it’s going to come down to dollars.”
The Jays have so streamlined their payroll in recent years that they can certainly afford to add a couple less-than-ideal contracts, if that’s what it’s going to take. Now they’ve only got to– y’know finally– put their money where their mouth is.
Alex, like all of us, really, is very obviously excited for the opportunity, excited for the new phase of the year, and excited to no longer have to watch this fucking team play out the string– he quite literally says as much.
“I’m excited for the off-season,” he says. “And that’s not to say– and it’s more because– well, it’s just like anything, it’s obviously tough: the team isn’t playing well, you’re sitting here in late August and early September, it’s tough to impact a roster, to make trades, and I can’t wait to get going, because we have a lot of work to do, and I don’t want to watch a team not playing well. It’s hard, and I understand that the fans want– they’re probably more upset than anything– but I’m more anxious and excited to get to work in the off-season and get after it and get this thing right and fixed and get back on track. So, there’s been a lot of good stories, and there’s a lot of things to be excited about, but at the end of the day it’s the wins and losses, and it’s going to come down to what we do in the off-season. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we’re going to be going full speed ahead.”
“You can take a lot of good things that happened early, and I know everyone’s been injured, but we saw at times– what the rotation did early in the season before guys got hurt. You saw what the offence did when everyone was starting to click and roll together. I think we’ve seen at times the bullpen– which I think we’re still going to look to add, if we can–what everybody can do. So really it’s on me, and it’s on the front office in the off-season to do our jobs and do our work, and to make the 25-man roster that much stronger. But there’s no question that we can do it.”
One way they could potentially improve internally is by bringing Travis d’Arnaud to the Majors. Yet, like Gose and Hechavarria, they appear to prefer to err on the side of caution.
“Right now, I think, with the injury, he’ll start the year in the minor leagues,” he says of d’Arnaud. “We won’t rule out, again, depending on the construction of the roster– could he compete for a job in Spring Training? You know, DH, first base? He’s played a little bit of first base– not much– but again, the likelihood is, because of the time missed, and seeing how he comes back from the injury, the likelihood is that he’ll be in the minors, but we’ll be open-minded in camp, unless we go sign someone to a guaranteed deal.”
Of course, Anthopoulos can’t be expected to reveal that he thinks the well-liked JP Arencibia could be on his way out, but I still think that’s got to be a possibility, despite the fact that d’Arnaud probably could use some time to get his feet back under him behind the plate– though… isn’t that what Spring Training is for?
One set of prospects we can, at least, be sure will start the year in the minors is the Big Three of Lansing– soon to be the Big Three of Dunedin.
“They’ll start in the Florida State League, and from that point– we expect them to do well. They certainly have a chance to end up in New Hampshire.”
Yes, we’ve seen Henderson Alvarez make the jump from Dunedin to the Majors in a single year– though that was after he’d spent a full year in the Florida State League the season previous– and Drew Hutchison pitched in the Majors after less than 32 innings at Double-A, but that seems a highly unlikely path for any of the Jays’ three prized arms, even though it sounds like they’ll be taking the reins off a little more in 2013.
“Through their teenage years we wanted to protect them a little bit more,” Anthopoulos explains of the trio of 20-year-olds. “The big thing for us– you never know with innings, and all that type of stuff, but these guys are still growing, and we’ve done a lot of studies on guys getting hurt at a young age– and that doesn’t mean that they all do, but kinda get out of the point where their bodies start to mature a little bit more– and some of these guys are still getting taller, and still starting to fill out– it’s when we monitor the innings a little bit more. But when the bodies start to mature a little bit more, we don’t mind to ramp up the workload.”
He adds, however, that “Sanchez, developmentally, is still a little skinny, but he can throw up to 99, and he’s easy. But he’s still got his development, in terms of his body.” So it’s not like he’s going to be riding in on a white horse to save the season next year, when it all goes horribly awry again.
In other words, Alex best be getting some serious work on, after an entire fucking calendar year that’s only brought the following MLB contributors from outside the organization– only one of whom has even a chance to be a starter or a regular position player on next year’s squad: Jesse Chavez, Jeff Mathis, Robert Coello, Ben Francisco, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Aaron Laffey, Jason Frasor, Omar Vizquel, Francisco Cordero, Ryota Igarashi, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brad Lincoln, Steve Delabar, Yorvit Torrealba.
Ugh. I mean, at least he knows what he’s up against, but… ugh.
Image via MLB.tv.